Questions & Answers
Act is in place. Don't we just need it to be enforced? Six years since the ban came into force, it is absolutely clear that hunts are continuing to send their hounds into
cover where they know wild mammals are likely to be found. Whenever they are caught chasing a fox or
hare, they inevitably say they were "trail hunting", and the pursuit was an "accident". This
situation must be rectified. The insertion of a reckless behaviour clause into the Act would mean that the claim
of an "accident" could no longer be used, as hunters would be guilty of an offence if they "caused or permitted"
their hounds to chase live quarry.
Would a reckless clause mean that all dog owners would be at risk of prosecution? No, because the reckless behaviour clause will only apply to persons who, 'while in charge
of a pack of dogs used for the purpose of simulating the hunting of a wild mammal, causes or permits those
dogs to chase, injure or kill a wild mammal of a species which he knows or ought to know is likely to be found and chased,
injured or killed by those dogs at that location’. Responsible dog owners would have no need
to fear the law.
Would the addition of a reckless behaviour clause to the Hunting Act be sufficient? It is also necessary to close the loopholes currently being exploited by hunters. The
Gamekeepers exemption is being used as a cloak for terriermen to continue to operate within foxhunts as they always have.
The Falconers exemption is being exploited by fox hunters as it does not limit the number
of dogs which may be used to flush quarry to a bird of prey. During the cubhunting season, when packs of hounds are traditionally
held in a cover and trained to kill fox cubs, foxhunts now take out a bird of prey, and claim, if challenged,
that the hounds are flushing foxes from the cover to the bird of prey. In the opinion of hunt monitors, this is utterly false
and the birds are incapable of killing a fox. The falconers themselves strongly object to what the hunters are doing,
and they also wish to see this loophole closed. Also the exemptions which allow the retrieval of
a shot hare and the hunting of rats or rabbits are being exploited by beagle packs because there is no limit
on the number of dogs which may be used for these activities. Hunts suspected of using an entire pack
of beagles for illegal hare hunting simply claim to be operating under one of these exemptions whilst mink
hunts claim their packs are hunting rats. The deer hunts are abusing the 'research and observation' example to continue chasing
and killing red deer for 'sport'.(see 'At a Glance Guide' for details of proposed amendments).
Where is the evidence of widespread
law breaking by the hunts?
Hunt monitors and members
of the public have made a considerable number of complaints to the police of illegal hunting which they have witnessed and
filmed. The overwhelming majority of these have been rejected, sometimes in the early stages by the police or the Crown Prosecution
Service after the police have gone to considerable trouble compiling the evidence. The issue always comes back to proving
"intent", when the hunters have claimed an accident. The levels of evidence currently being demanded to satisfy the needs of the
Act are almost impossible to achieve. But POWA emphasise that the Act's wording and numerous loopholes
allow Hunts to continue to chase and kill wild mammals either without breaking the law or with a very slight chance
of being prosecuted should they do so.
Doesn't a call to strengthen the Act just play into the hands of the hunters? On the contrary. The thing that the hunters fear the most is a strengthening of the Act. This
is illustrated by the words of pro-hunt Conservative MP David Maclean, when addressing the crowd at the Peterborough
Festival of Hunting in 2007. Mr Maclean said "'This law will be toughened up if Labour wins another
election. It is essential that we get political and help Vote OK to get the pro-hunting MPs into parliament.'
Do the public wish to see the Act strengthened? Polls consistently show that the public remain overwhelmingly in favour of hunting being banned and also that this
opinion is shared by the majority in rural areas. They are aware of the level of lawbreaking currently taking place,
and a poll conducted by the Exeter Express & Echo on 15-1-09 asking if the Hunting Act should be strengthened resulted
in a vote of 86% in
favour of strengthening, and only 14% against.
Won't the police use the assertion
that the Act is currently too weak as an excuse not to bother to enforce the ban? In fact, the police long ago drew that conclusion for themselves and it is probably the
main reason why there has been so little attempt by police to enforce the Act. Also, an ACPO representative has said that
the low level of criminal sanctions provided by the Act was another factor that knocked its enforcement down their order of
priorities. Police officers
who have been working closely on the hunting issue have agreed to meet with John McDonnell MP and explain how a
strengthening of the Act, as suggested by POWA, would make their job far easier, and aid enforcement considerably. At the present
time public money is being wasted, as police officers work hard compiling evidence of illegal hunting, only to have the cases
come to nothing as the CPS reject them on the grounds of the difficulty of proving "intent". A stronger Act
would aid both police and Crown Prosecution lawyers in getting illegal hunting successfully prosecuted. The police are also concerned about the safety of hunt monitors who try and gather evidence of illegal hunting,
and who suffer verbal and physical abuse from hunt supporters. A more clear cut law with less onerously demanding levels
of evidence being required (i.e. which is needed at present to try and show actual "intent") would mean the monitors
would be in a less dangerous position.
What is the legal opinion on POWA's proposed
amendments? POWA's legal advisor has
carefully considered and endorsed the proposed amendments and fully supports POWA's contention that these
five simple changes to the Hunting Act will help strengthen the current legislation and make it far easier to
enforce. (See 'At a Glance Guide' ) ..
Will the High Court Ruling
on the Hunting Act 2004 have an effect on POWA’s campaign? POWA's lawyers have advised that the High Court Ruling confirms that hunting
is an 'intentional' act. The court ruled that 'intention' has to be proven in order to achieve a conviction
for hunting a wild mammal with a dog. The hunters claim that all incidents of hunting are 'accidental'. Therefore,
POWA's campaign to amend the Act and include a reckless behaviour clause is a sensible way forward to securing more prosecutions.
The High Court ruling muddied the legal waters further, and detracted further from Parliament's intentions in passing
the Act, by ruling that using any number of dogs to 'search' for a wild animal was OK, as 'searching' did
not constitute hunting within the meaning of the Act.
POWA's campaign continues to encourage MP's to Build on the Ban & Strengthen the Act.
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